Student Brings Personal Story, International Ties to Women’s Event

March 9, 2011

One year ago, as program director for Women for Women International in Rwanda, Berra Kabarungi stood on a bridge separating her country and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the very first Join Me on the Bridge gathering — an event that not only brought together women of those war-torn African nations but also sparked tens of thousands to meet in unity across the globe, including supporters at Mary Baldwin University.

Berra Kabarungi at Mary Baldwin

This year, Kabarungi is a new student at Mary Baldwin and looking forward to participating in Mary Baldwin’s second Join Me on the Bridge event at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Spencer Center. The event is organized by the student group CGIU: Changemakers for Women , one of the first college organizations to partner with Women for Women International.

“It’s so important that Join Me on the Bridge is not just happening in big cities,” said Sarah Anne Barrow ’12, one of the event organizers. “It’s a way for us to connect not just internationally, which we always try to do, but with our local community. We’re connecting something local with something international.”

Other Bridge events — more than 200 globally — were held this year on International Women’s Day, March 8.

“It’s crazy to think that at the same time on the same day all around the globe, women are coming together,” Barrow said. “The things they did in London and San Francisco on March 8, we are doing at Mary Baldwin.”

Recently, Kabarungi recalled the excitement that surrounded her first Bridge meeting. There, participants held handmade posters with the words of female family members, neighbors, and friends. They displayed messages such as, “We are tired of every type of discrimination.”

inaugural Join Me on the Bridge event

“The message was directly from our hearts,” she said. “We made posters from the exact words of women who were saying ‘We need peace.'”

Kabarungi and her counterpart from the Congo embraced and tied together two halves of a banner that declared, “Women are building bridges of peace.”

At Sunday’s event, students, faculty, staff, and members of the community will have their own opportunity to sign a banner in support for women’s development around the world. Dr. Adérónké Adésolá Adésànyà, visiting professor in the School of Art and Art History at James Madison University, will also present a lecture, “Power and Powerlessness: Images and Imaginations of Women in Nigeria.”

2010 Join Me on the Bridge at Mary Baldwin

Afterward, local restaurant Baja Bean Co. will donate 10 percent of its proceeds to Mary Baldwin’s Changemakers for Women sister sponsorships. The group raised enough money in 2009–10 to allow five women from war-ravaged countries to participate in Women for Women programs and provide for their families’ basic needs for one year. The group’s first recipient, Congolese woman Adolphine Tumusifu M’Bahti, will have access to jobs and vocational and business skills thanks to the classes she is able to take through the Changemaker’s efforts.

“We are so thankful for our partnership with [Baja Bean owner] Sarah Lynch,” Barrow said. “It’s so important to us to have a connection with the community and especially women-owned businesses; it really ties into what Changemakers for Women stands for.”

The group has continued to raise money this academic year, working to secure 10 additional yearlong sponsorships at $324 each. In a partnership with The Sacred Circle , a bookstore in downtown Staunton, the group will receive 15 percent of sales of the book A Thousand Sisters by Lisa Shannon. The book will be the subject of a discussion in the Spencer Center on March 29. The group will also sell Mother’s Day cards again this year. Other fundraising efforts include a babysitting weekend at the end of April and an International Tea in May.